I remember getting my first chainsaw. It was a 12" Homelite made for a 12 year old who's main mission was to trim back the branches into brush piles so that his dad could stay busy sawing through the bigger stuff that heated our house every winter.
Cutting wood wasn't just a hobby for me and my dad, it was Plan A for heating our house with no Plan B. You cut wood with more passion when it's the thing that gets you through 6 months of winter in Central New York. The temperatures would hover around 5 to 15 degrees for a good three of those 6 months. We needed good hard wood and lots off it---every year.
I don't know why, but I loved being out in the woods with my dad doing hard work. Manuel labor was a rush for me. I loved seeing things get accomplished. I loved feeling like I was contributing to something important. And I especially loved being with my dad on a shared mission. We worked like a pair of good oxen. He needed my insatiable need for speed, and I needed his measured wisdom so that we didn't kill ourselves. It was a perfect combination.
My dad was the Principal of a small Christian School...the one I attended all the way from K-12. He would finish work around 3:45pm and be home roughly around 4pm each day. During the Fall, it would get dark around 6pm to 6:30 with a few minutes trimmed off each day until it finally got dark around 5pm. So when he got home, time was of the essence. We had to be ready to hit the woods and move some lumber, so I would get the tractor hooked to the trailer, make sure all the bar and chain oil and the mixed fuel was the perfect consistency, sharpen the chains we needed to saw quickly, and park everything pointed toward the woods so that all dad had to do was put his overalls over his button down shirt and pleated pants and hop in the driver's seat. He would pull into the driveway and we were rolling into the woods within 5 minutes. I loved to hear him say, "You got everything ready? Good job, Jay."
He would fell a tree and immediately cut it into 12 to 16 ft sections for me to drag out into the open field. I would back up the 8N Ford tractor, drop the draw bar, secure the chain around the log, lift the log in the air with the hydraulics, and slice through the woods to get that thing in the field as fast as I could. My objective was to be back to haul out another log just about the same time my dad had trimmed off all the branches...I was driven to not waste a second. My dad will tell you now that I kept him moving faster than he liked.
So fast forward to this week. I now possess my dad's tractor that he inherited from his dad and I've also got the same wagon (former manure spreader) that we hauled wood with all those years. I'm out in the woods while it's still cooler trying to "haul heat" so that I'm ready for winter. You see, I have a wood burning stove now, too. The only difference is that I have a Plan B in the event that wood is scarce or I don't feel like getting my hands dirty. It's kinda pansy, but it's true. I don't have the same pressure I felt with my dad to get the only source of heat available, but I treat the experience similar and put some pressure on myself to get as much of my heat from wood as is possible each winter. I'm burning wood today since we've had some cool May nights this year. I can't say as I'm complaining. Wood heat is the best heat.
So today I plan on getting out into the forest to keep "haulin' heat" throughout this month of May so that come late October it's split, dried, stacked, and ready to burn, baby. There are few things so cathartic, nostalgic, and therapeutic for me as getting into the wild woods and carrying on this Holdridge tradition. The unique smell of the exhaust of mixed fuel exhaust and thawing earth, the towering trees surrounding me like a canopy, the sun rays slicing through the open spaces casting long shadows in the early morning hours, the feeling of antiquity as I look at the old rusty 8N Ford tractor packed with another load of wood...all these things breath life into my soul. And the honest toil that makes my muscles ache is the best feeling in the world. It's the only kind of exercise I actually enjoy.
I feel close to my father out in the woods. I feel close to the boy inside me. I feel close to my God. And feeling close to these three things centers me.